A Collector’s Item: Shamma Friedman’s Le-Toratam Shel Tannaim

friedman20tannaitic0011[1]Shamma Friedman, Studies in Tannaitic Literature: Methodology, Terminology and Content. Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 2013. Hebrew. XVII+534 pp. NIS 111.

Shamma Friedman is a didactic master. His aptitude for explaining and teaching complex matters in simple and concise language is impressive -and useful. His articles were the first ones I read in Talmudics and they were accessible enough for me to say, “I could probably do that.” (I have since learned that I probably cannot, at least not with Friedman’s panache). It is thus no surprise that many of his models have become the new standard in the field and were adopted (sometimes overzealously) by both his students and his wider readership.

Friedman is a scholar of the Babylonian Talmud, one of the first to delve into the central text of Jewish literature left fallow by the first generations of Jewish scholarship. His work, together with that of David Halivni and Eliezer Shimshon Rosenthal, taught generations of students how to notice the structure of the sugya and to separate the various layers within it. The generations of students he and Halivni taught introduced the term “Stam” to the world of Talmud scholarship, where it is now wielded as one of the central tools for learning Talmud in academic and nonacademic settings. Friedman’s articles on the Bavli were re-published in 2011 by the JTS press in Jerusalem, and the present volume is a collection of articles on Tannaitic literature.

“My studies in Tannaitic literature were conceived mainly as a by-product of inquiry and sustained study of the Babylonian Talmud and its parallels in other segments of Talmudic literature, and as a by-product of preparing editions and running commentaries to chapters of Talmud,” writes Friedman [p. X, translation mine]. This is a modest assessment. Friedman is no less a master of Tannaitic Literature than of Bavli, and here too his models gained widespread acceptance in the scholarly community. The book is divided into four sections: Mishnah and Tosefta, the Baraytot in the Babylonian Talmud, Terminology and Language (another collection of Friedman’s many linguistic articles is slated for publication in the future) and “Developmental Studies in Halakhah and Aggada.” New material and references were added to all the articles, making this book Friedman’s final (and sometimes revised) word on the matter.

Three important Friedman articles were translated into beautiful and readable Hebrew for this collection by (my good friend) Avraham Yoskovich. These articles are: “The Primacy of Tosefta to Mishnah in Synoptic Parallels,” in H. Fox and T. Meacham (eds.) Introducing Tosefta (New York: Ktav, 1999), 99-121. “Uncovering Literary Dependencies in the Tannaitic Corpus,” in S. J. D. Cohen (ed.), The Synoptic Problem in Rabbinic Literature (Providence: Brown Judaic Studies, 2000), 35-57. “A Good Story Deserves Retelling – the Unfolding of the Akiva Legend,” in J. L. Rubenstein, Creation and Composition: the Contribution of the Bavli Redactors (Stammaim) to the Aggadah (Tübingen: Mohr, 2005), pp. 71-100. The book is printed well, the Greek, English and German for the most part set and printed properly, and the four indices: locorum, rerum, nominorum and verborum are comprehensive and usable. (The index of names includes all modern scholars mentioned in the book, including the Talmud Blog’s very own Shai Secunda [199n18]; the index of words includes Akkadian, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and Syriac).

Two other important pieces are hiding in the book: (1) a discussion of the Babylonian Aramaic verb הוי, which more often that we think means not “to be,” but rather “to learn” (425-427) and (2) an extensive footnote on the term “kitvey ha-qodesh”(86-89n10).

Friedman, perhaps with the harried graduate student in mind, lists his main innovations in the field on pp. XII-XVII. This self-evaluation of one’s scholarly career is an exercise I would like every senior scholar to engage in, and the results are a concise and methodical list of Friedman’s ideas on Tannaitic literature.  It is not of course necessary to accept these theories at face value, but they provide useful heuristic models for testing texts against, and offer useful rules of thumb for study. Three important contributions are:

  1. What we see is what we have. If there are two versions of the same idea, it is more profitable to assume that they have a genetic relationship and not that they were conceived independently from each other. This is true of manuscript variants in the Bavli, and equally true for synoptic parallels of Mishnah and Tosefta, as well as of Tosefta and Bavli.
  2. Toseftan forms and halakhot are often more “primary” than those in the Mishnah. “It is time,” writes Friedman, “for a full comparative mapping of the Mishnah and Tosefta” in order to examine whether this is true in the entire corpus (Friedman intimates, I think, that he believes that it is so). This is not to say that the Tosefta as a work was redacted earlier, notes Friedman, only that the individual laws tend to have been preserved in a more original state, and that the Mishnah applied a stronger hand to its sources. Sometimes, when we can add Tannaitic midrash to this synoptic comparison, we see that the Midrash is more primary than Tosefta, which is more primary than the Mishnah.
  3. The Bavli is creative. The way Tannaitic sources are treated in the Bavli shows that they took great liberty with the wording and content of their sources. This means that Tannaitic sources in the Bavli should not be taken as completely Tannaitic, and those sources marked as Tannaitic with no parallel in Palestinian literature should be considered a “creation of the Bavli.” The Babylonian Talmud – but not the “Stam,” contra David Halivni and Jeffrey Rubenstein – was also creative in its representation of historical narratives and figures, as well as in its expansion of aggadot.

Friedman’s vast knowledge  of other corpora and his interest in the ancient near east are best evidenced in the last article of the collection: “The Case of the Woman with Two Husbands in Talmudic and Ancient Near Eastern Law,” on the matter of a husband who abandons his wife (first English printing: “The Case of the Woman with Two Husbands in Talmudic and Ancient Near Eastern Law,” Israel Law Review 15,4 [1980]: 530-558). While Roman Law, surprisingly, does not discuss this matter, the ANE sources all agree that a husband who abandons his wife without providing for her in advance risks the loss of his marriage. The Mishnah demurs (Friedman claims that in the Bavli some remnant of this idea creeps in), and the Syrian Lawbook of the Patriarch Timotheos, in three consecutive “questions” on the matter, offers in one case (§29) a grudging acceptance of the ANE law with an admonition, and in two other cases (§§30-31) rejects it completely. This article, published in two law reviews in 1975 (Hebrew) and 1980 (English) is little known and presents an important avenue of inquiry for all students of rabbinic literature. Most important are Friedman’s methodological deliberations at the beginning of the article and the literature he collected; I am not sure I am convinced by the parallels he offers, but as he himself says, his consideration of the parallels led him to a better reading of the rabbinic sources themselves – a reading justified by the sources. He was also able to show, convincingly, that the lawbook of Timotheos is not (contra V. Aptowizer) full of Talmudic sources, marking it both as an exciting parallel body of law in it own right and an independent channel through which the cuneiform law continued to make its mark to the end of late antiquity, in 805.

Shamma Friedman is the teacher not only of his students, but of everyone who has spent significant time with rabbinic sources. His  work has made an indelible mark on Talmudic scholarship. This collection is not only evidence of this mark but a call for all of us to engage with his ideas again and use them to expand our horizons even further.

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